Ibn Battuta is a household name in the Middle East and North Africa that can be found emblazoned across street signs, shopping centres and Hamams. The man behind the name is the Arab world’s most famous and celebrated explorer. In the 1300s, Ibn Battuta started off on a journey to pilgrimage across North Africa from his home in Morocco towards Saudi Arabia, taking the time to circumvent southwards to visit Eastern Africa, voyaging north to Turkey and then taking his travels through India unto China. His records are highly detailed and research confirms his accuracy down to the names of towns, tales and individuals he met along the way.
This account of adventure lives up to fiction, but is in fact full of curious happenings which are not uncommonly relayed in societies that still live in close contact with nature. One such story was of a Sheikh traveling with a pack of men, all of who had not eaten for a few days. The Sheikh protested against their desire to kill and eat one of the elephants they had spotted in the distance. The men ignored the Sheikh and subsequently mauled and devoured the animal – that very night a further group of elephants appeared at the spot the men had chosen to sleep and killed all of them, except the Sheikh whom was lifted up onto the back of an elephant by the trunk and taken to the nearest town out of harm’s way. Surreal occurrences coupled with vibrant and intricate details of architectural and natural landscapes, alongside detailed illustrations of cultural habits provide an enlightening and mostly positive reflection of Arabs long gone. One of the many public figures he speaks of includes Rumi’s descent into madness and genius, the life and rise of Saint George and the King of Al Hind and Al Sind. The following is a description of the Umayyad mosque in Syria:
“This is the greatest mosque on earth in point of magnificence, the most perfect in architecture, and the most exquisite in beauty, grace and consummate achievement; no rival to it is known, no equal to it is in existence.”
An important read for those wishing to gain insight into a golden age in the Arab world and highly recommended to those who enjoy action and adventure. A page turner.
[Version: The Travels of Ibn Battuta, Translated by Tim Mackintosh-Smith]